Attend to safety risks or face hefty penalties

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Employers who fail to be proactive in detecting and removing known risks to health and safety are being warned they will face tough penalties for doing so.

In a recent case Melbourne Water was fined $400,000 over the workplace death of a technician. The employee was presumed to have slipped through a dislodged steel slatted grate and drowned in a sewerage channel.

The Melbourne County Court heard that similar walkways at the plant had been reported as problematic as far back as 2008, with reports at the time recognising that the consequences of the dislodged grates included serious injury or fatality due to drowning. While the specific problems were remedied, similar occurrences were reported throughout 2010.

The court expressed concern that there had been a number of reports relating to the grates that had gone unheeded. While some of the reports related to checked-shaped grates (as opposed to the offending slatted grates), the Judge found that these reports should have brought to the mind of the health and safety supervisors that a similar occurrence could happen with the slatted grates.

The judge labelled the case a "clear and substantial failure" of ensuring a workplace was safe.

In a legal insight by Holding Redlich lawyers, Michael Selinger and Mark Khunnithi said the case highlighted the “critical importance” of employers being proactive in dealing with known risks to health and safety.

“It also emphasises the importance of spreading information throughout an organisation about a risk to health and safety which may occur in a similar situation but one which has not been expressly reviewed, in this case the different types of grates,” they wrote.

Additionally the pair said it signifies to employers the court is prepared to impose significant penalties for breaching safety laws when a business should have addressed the known danger to which its employees were exposed.

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